Most people think you need to hoard industry secrets in order to hit it big. But I believe in giving, just not too much. I’m sharing my journey to becoming a freelance writer in a multi-part series. This series will continue to grow as I continue to
make mistakes grow as a writer and person. If you’re a budding freelance writer, I hope this series is of help to you. Now go toast to your dreams with that bottle of wine you’ve just bought with the change you just found under your sofa!
So you’ve decided you’re going to become a freelance writer. You’ve chosen a rewarding and fulfilling career, but brace yourself. It’s not easy, takes a lot of discipline and it takes a while to be able to pay your bills with it unless you’re already independently wealthy (in which case you’re one of those people who has time to do things for free while the rest of us scowl at you). Everyone’s career path is different in any creative field.
There are many great freelance writing websites out there that can help with daily or weekly job tips, fellowships, scholarships, and great recommendations for how to set yourself up for success. Most of these sites mention that writing as a career will be an emotional roller coaster. This is true for many paths we take in life. What many of these sites don’t offer are stories of writers who discuss their journey in detail. That’s probably because it would mean divulging personal information, discussing our failures, and admitting that we sometimes made mistakes on the way.
But I’d like the share a bit about this with readers because I wish I had someone who did.
I began writing and keeping journals as a child, kept them throughout college and always had notebooks around as an adult. I even wrote my own screenplay at the age of 17 because I was inspired by films I’d watch on IFC or CineLatino. I attended college at the University of California, Irvine and graduated during the Great Recession. My family had been living in Mississippi and suggested that I move out there because many companies were looking for bilingual employees.
I didn’t want to leave Los Angeles. I knew I would be terribly unhappy in my parents’ small town, but I went because I needed the money. My dream at the time was to travel the world, and maybe move to a bigger, more affordable city when I could. I worked in a job that was okay, but where I knew I’d have no future if I wanted to live a life of adventure.
After this, I applied to work for a state non-profit that worked on immigrants rights. It was in Jackson, Mississippi, which is bigger than many towns in the state, and I’d be able to afford it. I cared about the issue and felt that maybe I just had to change my dream and goals. It wasn’t for me. So I left again and went back to live with my parents while working dead-end jobs here and there.
But not everything was an accident. While I was living in Jackson, I met Donna Ladd, who founded and is now head editor of Jackson Free Press. She also teaches creative writing classes from time to time. I enrolled and learned about how to pitch articles, was exposed to The Artists Way, and felt that something changed.
Unlike many others who had concrete plans when they began, I started my freelance writing during a difficult time in my life. Even during my most difficult times I’d keep the writing morning pages I learned about in Donna Ladd’s class. Although I struggle to keep up this habit every day I can now proudly say I write every single day. Not always for money, but I do it.*
In 2013 I was offered a job in Buenos Aires that included a ticket and accommodations. In the beginning I just coasted, but I kept writing and trying to experience life in Argentina. In 2014 I decided I wanted to make a career of writing and at the time, the cost of living in Buenos Aires was cheaper than in the US. I started pitching, writing, applying to websites and eventually landing gigs.
Like any other writer I stuck with ghost writing and English-Spanish translations at first, worked on blog posts about issues I cared about when I could get them, and tried to work on long-term projects. In 2015 I completed a poetry e-book and began writing screenplays again. So this is only part of the journey.
I’m going to keep writing and this will include screenplays that I hope to fund and direct. This year I learned some coding, and I’m currently editing a short film I worked on with a friend. Some people can say they’ve hit it big with writing. Yay for them. I put food on table, and last year I paid off my car loan on my 30th birthday. Writing for a living took its toll.
So I’m here to say that whatever your reason for deciding to become a freelance writer: congratulations on picking something that will make people think you’re crazy. Now all you need to do is prove them wrong. So get to writing!
*I get bonus points on this because I cheat by writing my morning pages in English, Spanish, Spanglish, or my terrible Italian and Portuguese. (Freelance writer tip: nothing will take your writer’s block away faster than being bilingual because you just have to switch from one language to other. You’ll still write something stupid, but at least you will have made progress).